This post is part 2 of my report on the the annual meeting for the Society of Biblical Literature, held Nov 17-20 in Chicago. Here is the first part. In its second session, our Applied Linguistics group hosted a panel to address the question, “Where should we set the bar in biblical language training?” The idea was to discuss what seminaries, colleges, and graduate programs should expect from students in their respective programs. For instance, when a seminary graduate finishes a 3-year M.Div, what level should his or her Greek/Hebrew be at?
I was quite surprised and very happy to see the turnout at this meeting. It was the fullest of any session I attended. I would estimate over 100 people attended–not bad for a group with such an exciting name (Applied Linguistics)! 😉 That says to me that the influence of the communicative Greek/Hebrew movement is growing (largely due to the efforts of Randall Buth and the BLC and aided by the internet, especially groups like B-Greek, which numerous proponents of oral-aural approaches frequent). I have presented on communicative Greek teaching at the ETS or SBL for the past 5 years or so and I found this year’s audience by far the most receptive. The message is sinking in!
Panel participants included Hélène Dallaire, who teaches Hebrew at Denver Seminary and Robert Holmstedt, who teaches Hebrews at U of Toronto and blogs occasionally at Ancient Hebrew Grammar. Both of their papers were very good, and included a lot of thoughtful reflection on the importance of biblical language training and how to communicate that to students. Both also spoke helpfully from their substantial experience in teaching Hebrew about where the bar is currently being set and some possible strategies for raising the bar. Robert has posted his paper and some reflections on the panel here, so be sure to check that out.
I think I would be accurate in claiming that there was broad, maybe unanimous consent among the panelists and the audience that the bar was currently being set too low. Of course, I guess that’s what you should expect from a bunch of language teachers!
My next post in the series will discuss the presentation I gave to the group arguing that the bar should be set at fluency.
As someone who is a pastor and not a Professor of Biblical Languages, I think that it is self-evident that the bar is being set too low.
So where should the bar be set? Perhaps a minimum standard could be stated like this: “Our graduates who serve in Pastoral ministry, or other forms of service that involve teaching the Bible, will attain sufficient competence in Biblical Greek and Hebrew by graduation that they will read and study God’s word in these languages for the rest of their lives.”
If seminaries took this standard seriously virtually all of them would have to admit that their current program isn’t meeting this standard.
People who can actually read the Bible in Greek and Hebrew continue to do so. Yet, most pastors do not regularly read and study the Bible in Greek and Hebrew 5 years after they have graduated from seminary. The reason for this is that most of them left seminary having “studied” rather than having learned to read these languages (They might have been able to talk about Greek but they couldn’t talk in Greek).
We need to stop treating classes on Biblical Greek and Hebrew as though they were a rite of passage instead of being an important part of a minister’s training. Admitting we have a problem is the first step toward reform.
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